English National Ballet: Swan Lake at the Coliseum

Artists of English National Ballet in Swan Lake.

To kick off London’s 2015 ballet season, English National Ballet brought its production of Swan Lake back to the Coliseum. Nowadays, it is not surprising to find pieces that describe this classic as being “goddamned boring“. Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, are for better or for worse, the “public” face of classical dance and the level of productions and performers vary immensely across the globe.

It is indeed very hard to find a Swan Lake that hits all the right notes. Several world class companies are currently stuck with flawed productions, and what’s worse, artistic directors often cast dancers who are not up to the technical-dramatic challenges of Odette/Odile. As Mr. Clement Crisp remarked a few years ago, there simply aren’t many ballerinas who can dance it.  But this version, by former company director Derek Deane, strikes gold: beautiful lake scenes, gorgeous designs by Peter Farmer and emphasis on the drama. The prologue is used to show us how Rothbart cast a spell on Odette, and Siegfried is given a yearning solo before he departs in search of the swans. And there were also some dream casts on offer.

Artists of English National Ballet in Swan Lake

James Street as Von Rothbart and Artists of English National Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo: © Alice Pennefather

During this season, 5 world-class Siegfrieds were invited to partner the ladies at ENB: RDB’s Alban Lendorf, DNB’s Isaac Hernández and Casey Heard, SFB’s Vitor Luiz and the phenomenal-yet-atypical prince, Ivan Vasiliev, who was paired with Alina Cojocaru. I was lucky enough to catch 2 of these pairings.

It seems evident that Tamara Rojo is still one of the best Swan Queens of our times: she can give you a soft and creamy Odette, longing for freedom and melting at each phrase of the music, and an electrifying Odile. From the first bars of music of the Black Swan pas de deux, it is impossible to take your eyes off her, and when the coda arrives, her 32 fouettés are delivered to kill. We are as bewitched as Siegfried. Hers was Lendorf, who showed us the best of his Danish training: a wonderful expressive upper body brought to life the prince’s romantic ideals, and the buoyancy of his jump (particularly during his solo) spoke of Siegfried’s wish for freedom. Perfectly matching Rojo’s intense Odile, he also delivered thrilling turns à la seconde to thunderous applause of the audience.

 Photo: © Laurent Liotardo

Tamara Rojo as Odette. Photo: © Laurent Liotardo

In the other performance I saw, Dutch National Ballet’s Isaac Hernández gave us a younger Siegfried, more impulsive than introspective. He made great use of his elegant line and fabulous technique, and was an attentive partner to Erina Takahashi’s vulnerable Odette. I do hope he returns to guest with ENB soon (why not in Le Corsaire?) as he seems a natural fit for the company.

With the sublime Tchaikovsky score and dancers who can bring justice to the double role of Odette/Odile, one can understand Swan Lake‘s power to captivate an audience, its sheer scale and relevance. But, in the end, every successful production of Swan Lake rests on the strength of its swans and ENB’s corps de ballet were fully up to the task: Ivanov’s patterns were revealed to us during the lake scenes of Acts 2 and 4, making hearts flutter at the sounds of Tchaikovsky’s beautiful score. It is here that lies the true power of classical ballet.

Artists of English National Ballet in Swan Lake.

Artists of English National Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo: © Alice Pennefather

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.

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